March 30, 2017
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847-546-4983


Becky G., from left, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and Ludi Lin appear in a scene from “Power Rangers.” ( AP Photo )

‘Power Rangers’ is more goofy than gritty

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Back in the ’90s, you probably knew them as “Mighty Morphin,” and these days they take the pre-fix “Saban’s,” but we all know them best as simply the “Power Rangers.” Executive producer Haim Saban discovered the “Super Sentai” series on Japanese television in the ’80s, and brought the concept of teens in colorful costumes fighting monsters to American audiences in the form of the somewhat silly, but much beloved, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” series. Now, of course, we have the big screen reboot, for better or for worse.

Joseph Kahn’s “Power/Rangers” short film that popped up online in 2015 showed just what a truly dark Power Rangers project could look like, but this version of the “Power Rangers” is about as dark as a CW series: just enough to be taken (somewhat) seriously, but with enough of a sense of humor about itself to have some fun, too.

The team of screenwriters has brought a sense of levity, as well as realism to the high school dramas, and the film is more about a bunch of oddball teens than it is about colorfully suited karate-chopping superheroes. The first half is “The Breakfast Club” with way more extreme daredevil behavior, as this posse of misfits discover each other and stumble into their startling new powers, by way of five colorful coins they happen to blast out of a mountainside.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ can’t decide what it wants to be

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Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as, well, the beauty and the beast, feeds on the nostalgia audiences have for the 1991 animated feature. As exciting as it might be to watch actors inhabit this beloved story, the film itself, directed by Bill Condon, seems profoundly confused, and confusing.

The fairy tale was written in 18th century France, and the setting, culture and costumes are faithful to that period. But the film also has to wrangle a 1990s era girl power heroine, as well as the all-inclusive identity politics of our current times. The result is a bit of a mess, lacking a unique cinematic identity and cohesive internal reality. But then again, this is a film that features a singing candelabra and a barking ottoman, so it’s best to check disbelief at the door.

In ‘Skull Island,’ Kong is drafted into Vietnam

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Not since Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” murmured of “the horror” has such a brooding beast lurked deep within a war-ravaged jungle as the King Kong of “Kong: Skull Island.”

Yes, the big ape is back, this time with a rollicking Vietnam War backdrop and the Creedence Clearwater-thumping soundtrack to match. The year is 1973, Nixon is pulling troops out of Vietnam and American explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) has convinced a senator (Richard Jenkins) to bankroll a quick expedition on the way out to an uncharted South Pacific island where “myth and science meet.”

Emotional ‘Logan’ cuts like a knife

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Forget Batman vs. Superman or Captain America vs. Iron Man. In James Mangold’s moving tribute to X-Men’s Wolverine, “Logan,” it’s all Logan vs. Logan. He strips away the spandex, the posse and the chaos, distilling the story down to the essence of the man, Logan, also known as Wolverine, also known as James Howlett. What’s left is the agony and the ecstasy of mutanthood, which star Hugh Jackman expresses as physical and mental torture. Logan’s greatest opponent is, and always has been, himself.

In this near-distant future of 2029, Logan shuns his mutant abilities. He drives a limo, racked with a hacking cough and a craving for liquor. He seems to be disintegrating before our eyes; he’s grizzled and mangy and those adamantium claws don’t unfurl like they used to. He mostly uses them for fending off hubcap bandits anyway. He toils alongside Caliban (Stephen Merchant) at a secretive Mexican camp to care for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whom they’re keeping drugged up to keep his apocalyptic seizures at bay. It’s not much of a life, or a legacy.

‘Before I Fall’ focuses on bonds between girls

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Boasting themes that are both cerebral and philosophical, “Before I Fall” is a young adult thriller that goes far beyond the surface level. Too often teenagers — girls, especially — are depicted on screen as superficial, obsessed with appearances and the happy-go-lucky lifestyle enabled by parental disposable income. But in “Before I Fall,” popularity contests are plagued by truly existential conundrums, with elevated stakes exacerbated by the fleeting nature of youth, and questions about the nature of life itself go hand in hand with the tricky maneuvering of high school politics.

There’s a supernatural-ish twist that kicks off all of this questioning. “Before I Fall” borrows a premise from “Groundhog Day,” in that our protagonist, Samantha (Zoey Deutch), must relive the same Friday, over and over, preceding a dangerous car crash. To make matters worse, it’s Cupid Day, wherein the entire high school celebrates Valentine’s Day with “val-o-grams,” rose deliveries that literally account for every student’s popularity points.

‘Rock Dog’ won’t have you howling for more

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The second Chinese-American co-production to hit U.S. theaters in as many weeks, animated feature “Rock Dog” arrives one week after the release of another prominent co-production, the fantasy adventure “The Great Wall.” Director Ash Brannon brings Pixar and Sony bona fides (he co-directed “Toy Story 2” and directed “Surf’s Up”) to this adaptation of rocker Zheng Jun’s graphic novel “Tibetan Rock Dog,” which mixes Tibetan culture with contemporary Brit-rock, and adds a splash of mob movies for kicks.

We start in a village on Snow Mountain, where a young mastiff, Bodi (Luke Wilson), and his dad, Khampa (J.K. Simmons), are tasked with guarding a bunch of ditzy, addled sheep from a pack of hungry wolves. An opening sequence, rendered in a hand-drawn style, nods to traditional Chinese art and music, and is folksily narrated by a mustachioed Yak, known as Fleetwood Yak, voiced by Sam Elliott.

Provocative, funny ‘Get Out’ is a horror film with a message

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Genre films — horror, comedy, fantasy, Westerns — have always been great vessels for social commentary. The pleasures of genre conventions allow such messaging to go down easy; the spoonful of cinematic sugar that helps the medicine go down. Actor/comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, “Get Out,” is an expert example of the way this works, though it’s far more than just a trenchant cultural critique wrapped in an appealing package. In this horror film, the horror is us, our history, our own troubled relationship with race. It’s bold, provocative, funny, and an overdue tonic for a society and media saturated with archaic norms and images.

“Get Out” riffs on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” as Rose (Allison Williams) brings her new boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to her lily-white, upper-crust community. While her neurosurgeon father (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotist/psychiatrist mother (Catherine Keener) welcome him with open arms, Chris can’t help but notice that the other black people he encounters there just aren’t acting quite right, and frankly, the white people seem a little too interested in him (and his physical qualities).

Horror film ‘A Cure for Wellness’ is masterful, but flawed

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Though Gore Verbinski has made a name for himself with large Hollywood studio pictures like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lone Ranger,” he’s always had a weird streak; a “one for them, one for me” mentality, interspersing in films like “The Weather Man” and “Rango.” “A Cure for Wellness,” a horror film set at a spa in the Swiss Alps, is most definitely one for him.

Here, “wellness” could easily be a euphemism for “wealth.” A powerful Wall Street banker, Pembroke (Harry Groener), runs off to a Swiss spa and writes back to his comrades about truths that he can’t unsee and that he’s not returning. An upstart young banker, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), is sent to retrieve him to stave off a business emergency, pressed into action by his superiors with threats of blackmail.

‘Fist Fight’ gets by on its stars’ chemistry

There’s a scene near the end of the comedy “Fist Fight” — not long before the altercation promised in the title — that more than makes up for whatever weak-sauce comedic sins have gone before. Let’s just say that the combo of Big Sean’s unprintable hit rap, star Charlie Day’s nebbishy physicality and a young girl’s school talent show is comedy gold.

If the rest of the film were as uproarious, “Fist Fight” would rank up there with the “Jump Street” reboots in the “funny movies featuring Ice Cube” category. As it stands, “Fist Fight” is a pleasantly foul-mouthed exercise that gets by on the chemistry of its two stars: Cube, with his NWA-trained death glare, and Day, who basically recycles his likably hapless yet inventive character from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” into a more responsible suburban dad.

‘LEGO Batman’ may be the best Batman movie ever

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One of the weaknesses of most Batman films is that they’re unwilling to question the nature of Batman himself, to interrogate the vigilante who patrols Gotham City single-handedly and anonymously. On paper, what Batman represents isn’t all that great — Bruce Wayne is a privileged one-percenter, an individualist who happily bypasses government programs to work alone and decide what’s best and who’s bad or not.

Which is why “The LEGO Batman Movie” is quite possibly the best Batman movie ever made, if not a close runner up to “Batman Returns.” Liberated from the constraints of “dark,” “edgy” or even “campy,” “LEGO Batman” is able to poke fun at the costumed gentleman hero, and really dig into the elements of Batman that make the character who he is, for better or for worse. Who’da thunk you’d get all that from the sequel to an adaptation of building blocks.

‘John Wick’ returns for more stylized violence

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If you didn’t catch 2014’s surprise action hit “John Wick,” launching Keanu Reeves right into a Liam Neeson-style career rebirth, it’s OK. Peter Stormare is here to explain “John Wick” to you at the beginning of “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Playing a Russian gangster, he serves as a connection to the prior film, wherein retired assassin Wick killed everyone in sight while avenging his dog. In fairness, the dog was really cute. Stormare serves as an audience proxy, a fan of Wick. “He killed three men in a bar with pencil!” Stormare exclaims. And in the way that every character recognizes him on sight, uttering “John Wick…,” it’s like they all saw the first movie too.

Writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski are back for the sequel alongside Reeves, brewing up more of that uniquely Wickian magic. The screenplay is once again taciturn, nearly wordless; Wick speaks infrequently, in monosyllables (perfect for Reeves’ stoner intonation), and new co-star Ruby Rose doesn’t utter a word. But the film is noisy, speaking in the whine of motorcycles, rumbling engines, gunshots, knife swipes and text message alerts announcing a bounty on John Wick’s head.

‘The Space Between Us’ veers off-course

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Call it “The Unspectacular Now.”

“The Space Between Us” aims to be an epic story of young love on the level of “The Spectacular Now” or “The Fault in Our Stars.” The cinematography often is gorgeous and the score is full of teary uplift. But none of that matters when little about the film feels authentic.

‘The Comedian’ is tragically unfunny

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Tragically unfunny, “The Comedian” reminds us that not even great actors can knock one out of the park every time.

Despite a talent pool of A-list players accomplished in film, TV and stage, this crude, crass, lowbrow comedy has a title that seems bracketed by irony quotes. Burdened with a choppy, poorly conceived script, “The Comedian” is impossible to enjoy on any level whatsoever.

‘A Dog’s Purpose’ is adorable, but forgettable

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Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky said there are two kinds of scenes in screenplays: “the Pet the Dog scene and the Kick the Dog scene.” Canine love letter “A Dog’s Purpose” manages to work in both. You might be surprised that this sappy, family-friendly tribute to man’s best friend kills its main character within mere moments. A stray puppy is snapped up by an evil, net-wielding dog catcher, and soon he’s off to that nice farm in the sky, before his rebirth. This serves as the starting point for the circle of life and metaphysical journey of our puppy protagonist.

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, the prevailing notion may be that all dogs indeed go to heaven, but “A Dog’s Purpose,” based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, takes a different approach, suggesting that dogs are constantly reincarnated. We follow the lives of a pup voiced by Josh Gad: first, briefly, the stray puppy; then a red retriever named Bailey in the 1960s and ’70s; Ellie, a German Shepherd K-9 police dog; Tino, a chubby ’80s corgi; and finally Buddy, a neglected St. Bernard with a long road home.

Matthew McConaughey glitters in ‘Gold’

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It’s been said that Matthew McConaughey is a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. After his rom-com hunk period in the 2000s, he had his “McConnaissance,” delving deeply into character work in “Bernie,” “Magic Mike” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” on TV in “True Detective,” and in “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he won an Oscar. His latest film, “Gold,” directed by Stephen Gaghan, is his most extreme character work yet, with him playing a balding, paunchy, cigarette chomping gold prospector in the 1980s, and yet McConaughey is so good he makes it work.

McConaughey tears into this role “inspired by true events,” playing Kenny Wells, a third generation Reno mining prospector, carrying the Washoe Mining Company through the good times and the bad. By 1988, he and his employees are operating out of a local bar, trying to get investors on the hook to fund mineral mines around the world. Kenny’s at the end of his rope when he has a dream — a vision during a whiskey soaked slumber — of a verdant tropical valley ripe with undiscovered gold.

‘Sing’ is an addictive combo of cute animals, pop music

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Illumination Entertainment, the team behind the Minions, branch out into the world of all talking, dancing, singing creatures great and small, mashing that up with the wildly popular phenomenon of singing competition reality shows. The result, “Sing,” is an amusing riff on genres, a “Zootopia Idol,” if you will, and it comes as a surprise that someone hadn’t thought of this combination already.

But while the film takes its introductory cues from shows like “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “X Factor,” with an all-too-brief audition montage that is jam-packed with truly wonderful moments (A water buffalo crooning Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”? Twerking bunnies? All that and more), it transforms into an old school backstage musical that celebrates the magic of putting on a show.

Star power can’t correct awry path of ‘Passengers’

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We seem to be shooting our best movie stars into outer space with alarming frequency. George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Damon and now Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have all been rocketed out of the stratosphere. Perhaps they’re trying to make the best impression possible with alien life forms. Maybe they’re seeking to colonize new worlds of moviegoers. In any case, the stars have never looked so starry.

And the movies — “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” “The Martian” — have been among the best blockbusters in recent years. Space isn’t just the last frontier; it’s the new Western.

‘Assassin’s Creed’ is an exciting, if strange, ride

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In 2015, director Justin Kurzel and actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard teamed up for a prestigious cinematic adaptation, a bloody, mad take on “Macbeth.” In 2016, the trio moved from Shakespeare to ... a video game? Taking on the popular “Assassin’s Creed” game seems like quite the left turn, and while the results aren’t as striking as the previous outing — it’s pretty uneven — the film is thoroughly stamped with Kurzel’s unique visual style, which makes for an exciting, if strange ride.

There is a complicated and deep mythology behind the game, and the film follows it mostly faithfully. Callum Lynch (Fassbender) is a death row inmate with a violent childhood. He is put to death by lethal injection, but wakes up in a clinic at the shadowy Abstergo corporation. The lead scientist there, Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard) claims she’s researching “the cure to violence.”

‘Why Him?’ forgets her

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Every generation gets the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” that speaks most trenchantly to the evolving cultural issues of our time. Apparently, ours is “Why Him?” where the young suitor isn’t racially other, but from a completely different planet when it comes to culture, values and social norms. That planet? Silicon Valley.

In “Why Him?,” directed by John Hamburg, written by Hamburg, Ian Helfer and Jonah Hill, Stanford senior Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), invites her tight-knit Michigan family to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). It’s only appropriate, seeing as their first introduction to the man was his unexpected naked rear on their video chat screen at dad Ned’s (Bryan Cranston) birthday celebration. And when the Flemings land in the Bay Area, they’re in for a cultural odyssey they could never have expected.

‘Rogue One’ is enjoyable installment in ‘Star Wars’ universe

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It’s right there in the title, and “Rogue One” proves to be most definitely a “Star Wars” story. As a spinoff chapter with a cast of new characters and a darker, grittier look and tone, the possibilities were endless for just how different “Rogue One” could be. The wait is over and the results are in: It doesn’t break the mold in terms of franchise formula, and it’s an enjoyable installment in the “Star Wars” canon. However, it’s not much more than that.

The title separates “Rogue One” from “Episodes” 1-7, but it feels like watching an episode of a series, despite the self-contained story. Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards, it uses the same well-established cinematic language of “Star Wars.” In terms of the timeline, consider “Rogue One” to be around Episode 3½, a chapter of Rebel Alliance history briefly alluded to in “Episode 4 — A New Hope.”

Casey Affleck is terrific in ‘Manchester by the Sea’

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Rage radiates silently from Lee Chandler, the antisocial handyman played by Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea.” While fixing faucets and fans for the residents of a working-class Boston suburb, Lee is polite as can be, although it doesn’t take many drinks before he’s pummeling innocent bystanders in a bar. As we’ll eventually learn, Lee’s violence is really directed at himself.

Affleck is something to behold in this poignant drama by Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”), but that won’t surprise anyone who’s been following the actor for the past 20 years. Since his breakout role in Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For” (1995), Affleck has become the art-house counterpart to his movie-star brother, consistently turning in quiet, compelling performances in such under-the-radar films as “Gerry” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Affleck essentially carries his latest movie — he’s in nearly every scene — and does so in his usual understated, effortless way.

GO Kenosha

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